We Need a Sinosceptic Movement to Rival Euroscepticism | Jake Dibden
For most of the 70 years since the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese Civil War, China was an impoverished, authoritarian state. It had suffered from many of the economic, agricultural and industrial reforms of Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forwards, which lead to the deaths of ~36,000,000 people and until 2001, China’s GDP per capita remained under $1,000.
In parallel to this economic failure, the CCP did what any authoritarian government usually does and cracked down. All dissent was violently crushed and punished, the movement of the Cultural Revolution, led by Mao, ostracised and lead to the deaths of many of even the most committed members of the CCP, and thousands of others. Later, in 1989 came the Tiananmen Square protests and the subsequent massacre of many student protestors.
The upshot is that China has never a bastion of human rights and freedom. It continually infringes upon the rights of all people, both domestically and internationally.
Whilst there are many states like this around the world, across all continents, none occupy the position in the world that China does today. Beginning in the 1990s, and accelerating well into the 2000s, China embarked on a process of rapid industrialisation. An abundance of human capital, access to natural resources and close relationship between industry and government, has meant that large, state-owned corporations, have been able to rapidly grow with relative ease. Because the state is the firm and the firm is the state, the Chinese government has the ultimate power to protect its own interests. Every trade deal and diplomatic compromise it negotiates is carefully designed to open up foreign markets to Chinese goods. International competitors pale in comparison to those Chinese firms, after all when a nation is governed by the same interests as its firms, companies can remove barriers and costs to their production with shocking ease. My point here is that no government is better for domestic commerce than a mercantile, protectionist, oligarchy, regardless of how frequently it uses the moniker of being a “Peoples Republic”.
As a result, China has managed to negotiate itself into a position of supreme importance in the world. Through neo-imperial practices in its foreign aid and international development policy, it has managed to bring many countries into its sphere of influence for example; Pakistan ($39.5bn investment between 2014 and 2018), Indonesia ($26.2bn) and Malaysia ($29.9bn) as well as many others across Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. In the western world, it is the largest, single-nation, trading partner of the US, second for the EU and fifth for the UK.
In the UK specifically, it owns significant parts of our public and commercial infrastructure, including ports, oil and gas production and water and electric supplies, giving us essentially no recourse against China. In the UK it also uses its growing student presence to try and police freedom of speech and thought in our schools and universities, the most recent and notable case being where Chinese students packed the lobbies during a debate at the University of Warwick on a pro-Hong Kong motion that was critical of the Peoples Republic of China and CCP.
Using its newfound economic power and geopolitical dominance, China has begun asserting itself on the world stage, progressively getting away with more and more, both at home and abroad, with no pushback from the international community.
It has, within the last 6 years;
1.Taken steps to bring Hong Kong closer to mainland China by undermining the democratic freedoms of its citizens, many of whom are British nationals.
2.Continued and accelerated its suppression of China’s muslim population.
3.Continued its military aggression towards its neighbours in the South China Sea and the Himalayas mountain range, not to mention its continued designs on Taiwan.
4.Attempted to subvert major parts of the West’s communications and intelligence infrastructure through Huawei and its 5G programme.
5.Continued all other manner of corruption and human rights abuses, completely unrestrained.
Four years ago, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union for comparatively minor infractions. Why is it that we should protest the EU for curtailing our economic and legal sovereignty, but continue to do business in the same way with a nation who actively undermines national and global security, a nation who continues to threaten us and our allies with its economic dominance?
It is important, now more than ever, that we stand up to China. That we remake the global order. But what should, and what can this new world look like?
Firstly one might turn to our American allies. For a multitude of reasons, we cannot replace our relationship with China with one with America. Firstly and most is the unreliability and moral ambiguity of their current administration. Given the unpredictability of the President, along with his inconsistent though broadly isolationist foreign policy, we sadly cannot expect the “shining city on a hill” to come to the rescue of liberty. Secondly, given the current state of the United States, of rioting, armed protest and mass unrest, that already imperfect administration will be more occupied with issues closer to home. And finally, more pragmatically, the US cannot fill China’s boots for the simple reason that China and the US are too different. Namely, China has lower costs of production, is less developed and has greater state involvement in the economy. Each of these factors are distinct advantages when trying to bring the world into its sphere of influence. Its companies and government can act unencumbered by its citizens or foreign competition, being able to spend big in LEDCs in Asia and Africa, and provide cheap consumer goods, a growing export market and a cheap place to produce ones own goods to Western consumers and businesses. The USA however, cannot replicate these conditions.
For the obvious reasons we cannot turn to the other power of the East; Russia. To aline ourselves with the Kremlin would be to replace one cruel and oppressive master with another.
Another alternative would be Europe, which is better placed than the US but still not perfect. Europe is perhaps better advantaged than China to assert itself through an aggressive economic policy and foreign investment. It has access to cheap pools of labour and industrial heartlands in Eastern Europe, has capitals of tech innovation in Germany, the Low Countries and Scandanavia, has a strong agricultural sector and has easy access to capitals of global finance such as Switzerland and Luxembourg. Whilst Europe will have to be an important ally to any new world leader, it cannot be expected to bear too much weight. The EU is largely made up of highly developed, or middling economies, meaning that if one is looking for longevity, Europe may not be the best economic option. Equally, the EU is notorious for its own internal issues both economic and political, and many members of the EU are currently grappling with increasing Euroscepticism.
The UK cannot be expected to stand alone as the sole power of the world. Many traditionalists in the UK will point to the Pax Britannica as a prime example of the role that the British nation and people can hold in the world, and with rose-tinted memories lament the fall of Empire. The more reasonable among us must recognise that these days are long gone. Britain no longer has the resources or indeed the will to exercise its interests around the world as we once did. Not merely because our military has gradually been reduced in size and scope, but for the simple fact that it was truly empire and colonisation that enabled our dominance, means that are (quite rightly), no longer acceptable in the modern world. The exploitative, cruel and violent days of Empire would be a moral and practical nightmare nowadays.
The answer, however, lies in the lingering rubble of empire. The Commonwealth.
Indeed the only brotherhood of nations that together espouses those beloved principles of freedom, individual liberty and the free market, and has the economic structure and might to rival that of China, is the Commonwealth.
If we can base our future foreign strategy, around manoeuvring the Commonwealth from being a second rate Olympics every four years to be a more coherent economic union, with increased collaboration on matters of trade, finance, technology and defence, then we could very soon have a challenger capable of rival Beijing. Currently, the Commonwealth boasts a combined GDP of ~$10.9 trillion and a population of 2.4 billion, compared with China’s $14.1 trillion 1.3 billion people.
With the massive access to large pools of low-cost labour, natural resources, high-quality centres of education and research, business and tech hubs and most importantly strong, shared, social institutions, linguistic bonds and historical ties, the Commonwealth can be the democratic, liberty-loving rival of the PRC.
We cannot continue with this unsustainable state of dependence on China, or to allow China to continue to exercise its growing geopolitical power on its smaller neighbours, or to continue to infringe further upon the rights of its citizens, or those of British nationals at home and abroad.
A ‘business-as-normal’ attitude will do nothing to combat the deeply disturbing direction that the CCP is taking, and it is only by looking outwards, to our friends in the Commonwealth, and maintaining a nostalgic, working relationship with our old allies in Europe and America, that we can combat the rise of Chinese authoritarianism.